Alberta’s Deputy Premier Ron Stevens may have been naïve when he claimed that his mission to Washington had been “extremely successful”; however, Jeffrey Simpson displays an equal naiveté if he believes that the United States will stop importing oil products made from the tar sands because of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production (Alberta’s emissions mission is far from accomplished, 7 May).
Although Section 526 of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (signed into law last December by President Bush) states that greenhouse gas emissions from the production of non-conventional fuels must be “be less than or equal to such emissions from the equivalent conventional fuel produced from conventional petroleum sources”, it applies only to U.S. Federal agencies, not to the population at large. In fact, Representative Henry Waxman, the author of Section 526, wrote to the Senate Committee on Armed Services, stating that federal agencies could purchase fuels containing “incidental amounts of fuel from tar sands”. Representative Waxman goes on to say that the section is intended to block federal agencies from “using government contracts specifically to promote or expand the use of fuel from tar sands”.
Any attempt at broadening the interpretation of Section 526 to stop the importation of oil derived from the tar sands would probably result in two reactions. First, the Alberta government (and probably the Canadian government as well), would attempt to redefine the meaning of “conventional oil” to include the tar sands. Interestingly, the Saudis would probably object to this, as cutting supplies of Canadian oil products to the United States benefits Saudi Arabia.
Second, vested interests would play the “energy independence” card, arguing that cutting supplies of oil products from Canada is not in the interest of the United States because Canada is a secure supplier and removing several million barrels of oil from the market would force the price of oil even higher.
Rising petroleum costs and the threat of supply shortages will ensure the continued production of oil products from Alberta’s tar sands. Ultimately, what will stop the growth of the tar sands is the availability of energy to extract the tar from the tar sands.
Submitted to Globe and Mail 7 May 2008 - unpublished.